Incessantly Sinful

Ariana Rodriguez
Illinois’ chain of Slightly Sinful adult shops may have begun with the opening of the flagship Alsip store in 1999, however the history of owner David Johns Sr. dates back to 1970 with the opening of his first adult store, A&B Adult Books and Peep Shows.

His son, David Johns Jr., remembers the store’s inventory of adult books and videos; the viewing booths and concrete floors as well. He said that the store remained in business until around 1990, when the city bought the property and his father decided to retire. However, by 1999, a restless David Johns Sr., came back with a new store.

“The new store in Alsip had more of a boutique look and we did a lot of research to make sure we were OK with any zoning matters,” Johns Jr. said. Nevertheless, the city opposed and tried to have to store shut down even before its official opening.

“My dad is a big 1st Amendment believer. He battled the government for two years while the store was shut down the entire time. He took it all the way to Illinois’ Supreme Court, until eventually the store was found not in violation. 2001 was the official opening of the flagship store.”

In February 2005, Slightly Sinful grew with the addition of a second store in Bradley, Ill., which is 50 miles south of Chicago.

“Again — we did our homework, zoning was fine; so we began construction on the new store and officially opened on Valentine’s Day in 2005,” Johns Jr. said. “However, the city tried to shut it down; and again we waged another two-year battle in court, but at least this time we were allowed to remain opened during the proceedings.”

Last month, Slightly Sinful opened its third location in the city of Joliet, Ill. Johns Jr. said he doesn’t expect any legal troubles with the new store zoned as a general retail location.

With each store located approximately 20-25 miles from one another, Johns Jr. says the Slightly Sinful chain is able to remain family-owned and operated.

“Nowadays my father, David Johns Sr., serves as ‘El Capitan,’” Johns said. “He oversees everything; goes to all the stores telling stories of the old days. [My brother] Chris Johns runs the day-to-day operations of the Alsip store, our busiest, since it’s close to Chicago. And of course my mother handles all of the bookkeeping.”

Johns said he’s been approached for franchising opportunities to bring the Slightly Sinful name to other states. “Eventually we might expand into other states, but due to the fact that we’re family-operated and we wish to keep it that way … it’s hard to say.”

Now three generations in, Johns said Slightly Sinful continues to reflect the ideals established by the family’s patriarch.

“My father’s a true believer in that consenting adults have the right to do what they want and that’s been met with so much opposition from government and moralist groups,” Johns said, “but we’ve remained true to this ideal and we’re here to provide the public with the products that will enable them to do what they please.”

Johns said that nowadays he sees adult as a mainstream market. “The people [that shop at adult stores] look different. The stores have more of a boutique look; and there’s training on product use.”

With the current economy and the dawn of the Internet, Johns said the key to deal with the decline of DVD sales is with competitive pricing and excellent customer service.

“You have to think like a consumer and price items competitively,” Johns said. “People know what they’re looking for. They’re researching on the Internet and while before there was less competition, now they can buy the same product everywhere.

“The key is to create loyal customers with affordable prices and customer service. We’re fair to our customers and that’s why they stay with us.”

Nevertheless, expensive, high-end products also make their way into Slightly Sinful customers’ shopping bags.

“Our most popular products are the jelly-style multi-function toys priced between $50-100,” Johns said. “If you want them to spend $100 on a toy, you have to be able to explain to them why.”

For educational purposes, Slightly Sinful employees are always armed with fresh batteries. “It’s not odd to see an employee and a customer standing by a counter with a dozen open vibrators. People want to be informed and want to deal with others that are open with their sexuality,” Johns said. “We give them so much info — probably more than they need — but you have to!”

To draw people into the store, Johns said Slightly Sinful’s longevity has brought in new visitors on a consistent basis through word of mouth. However, he said the company also holds occasional star signings and event sponsorships.

“We’ve hosted a Girls Gone Wild party and have had stars like Adam [Glasser], Seymore Butts, Flower Tucci and Jesse Jane, who signed at our flagship location last 4th of July. It attracted about 1,000 people.

“We also have big promos, such as giveaways for Valentine’s Day; and as far as advertising we’ve done everything from billboards to TV commercials.”

Looking back on the 30-plus years of Slightly Sinful’s existence, Johns Sr. tells his son that he wouldn’t change a thing — not the court battles or any other hardship.

“You just have to roll with the punches,” Johns Jr. said. “We’ve been through this before and we’ll probably have to again; going forward is the only way to survive.”